*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.
New research suggests there is more to helping kids become successful than pushing them to be involved in a multitude of activities and to score at the top of their class. In short, being a Tiger mom may be a little short-sighted.
The Arizona State study finds obsession over grades and extracurricular activities for young schoolchildren could be counterproductive, especially if such ambitions come at the expense of social skills and kindness.
Researchers discovered a fixation on grades and involvement in excessive activities can work against helping kids become well-adjusted and successful later in life.
“When parents emphasize children’s achievement much more than their compassion and decency during the formative years, they are sowing the seeds of stress and poorer well-being, seen as early as sixth grade,” said Suniya Luthar, one of the co-authors of the study.
“In order to foster well-being and academic success during the critical years surrounding early adolescence, our findings suggest that parents should accentuate kindness and respect for others at least as much as (or more than) stellar academic performance and extracurricular accolades.”
The study, “When mothers and fathers are seen as disproportionately valuing achievements: Implications for adjustment among upper middle class youth,” appears in the early online edition of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Luthar co-authored the study with Lucia Ciciolla of Oklahoma State University, Alexandria Curlee, an Arizona State University doctoral student, and Jason Karageorge, a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco.
The authors tried to determine if there were differences in how children were doing psychologically and academically, depending on their parents’ values.
Specifically, Luthar said that the best outcomes were among children who perceived their mothers and fathers as each valuing kindness toward others as much as, or more than, achievements.
Much poorer outcomes were seen among children who perceived either mothers or fathers valuing their achievements more highly than they valued being kind to others. These youth experienced more internalizing symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, externalizing or acting out behaviors and lower self-esteem, as well as more parental criticism.
And paradoxically given their parents high emphases on achievements, these students also had lower GPAs, and were reported by teachers to have more learning problems and disruptive behavior at school.
The findings demonstrate the value of being socially oriented, Luthar said. “It is beneficial for kids to be strongly connected with their social networks, whereas focusing too much on external validations (such as grades, extra-curricular honors) for their sense of self-worth can lead to greater insecurity, anxiety, and overall distress.”
What was surprising in the study, Ciciolla said, was how strongly children’s psychological and academic performance, consistently across a number of different measures, were tied to what children believed their parents cared most about.
And it did not matter much whether both parents or either parent were thought to more highly value achievement than kindness to others — having disproportionate emphasis on achievement coming from either parent was generally harmful.
It was also surprising, she said, that children who viewed their parents as valuing kindness to others much more highly than achievement did not appear to be suffering academically.
“It seems that emphasizing kindness as a top priority may not take the spotlight off achievement, because we found that these children did very well over all, including in their academics,” Ciciolla explained.